Why Get Married? Or Not?

As an offshoot of this thread, and a followup to a question my boyfriend’s cousin asked both of us last night…

For those of you who are in long-term, exclusive, serious romantic relationships other than marriage, and have no legal or other logistical obstacles to getting married, why have you chosen not to marry so far?

For those of you who are married, presuming your primary reason for getting married wasn’t religious beliefs about sex outside marriage being sinful or something of that nature, why did you choose to marry?

As for myself, I think my boyfriend and I are together for the long haul, and he has said the same. I’m not in any particular hurry to get married right this minute, and I’m not dying to have kids (though as I put it to him, I think that people should only have kids if they are dying to have kids – too many people have kids either by accident, or because it’s something they feel like they should do - and although I still reserve my right to change my mind on that issue, at 39, I realize that if I’m going to change my mind, I’d better get cracking.)

I do vacillate on the whole idea of getting married at some point, though – on one hand, I’m not a super socially conservative person, and I certainly respect the decision of long-term couples who choose not to marry because they don’t think that participating in the social institution of marriage is important to their relationship. (I’ve also got enough baggage from acrimoniously divorced parents, and seen enough friends’ marriages break up, to have my eyes quite open about the permanence of marriage, or the lack thereof.)

But on the other hand, something in my head, and I don’t think it’s as simple as social conditioning, makes me think most of the time that I want to be married at some point. Sure, it would be nice to have my boyfriend eligible for health insurance through my job and all the other legal niceties that come with the piece of paper in modern American society, but for me that just isn’t the issue.

Do I think that the fundamental nature of our relationship would change if we were married? Not really, but somehow there is still that nagging voice in the back of my mind.

So fellow Dopers, please share your stories and help me sort through my opinion on this stuff.

I am married and I firmly believe that the only reason people should get is married is to have and raise kids. Marriage is so hopelessly commingled among two completely different ideas that most people can’t figure out what is going on. There is the romance and life-long commitment issue plus the huge celebration that is a wedding. People understand that but that isn’t marriage is about. Most of it is a legal contract with very serious rights and responsibilities on both sides. The legal contract is how people get seriously burned and a bad relationship can turn much worse when lawyers get involved. It is better to just stay away from marriage as a contract unless you have to. You can split up on a whim and not worry as much about being cleaned out.

You can have a commitment ceremony without legal marriage and you can use simple contracts if you need to extend rights and responsibilities in some way. In short, marriage itself in the legal sense is unnecessary, expensive, and potentially dangerous to both parties. There is no reason to do it without very good reasons beyond a simple declaration of love. Plenty of people get married over and over and becoming worse off with every divorce. There is no excuse for that. That is what shacking up is for.

Well, there was this whole immigration thing…that just meant pushing it up though, we already knew we were eventually going to marry.

Honestly, it didn’t change anything in our relationship. We were already committed to each other, despite not knowing each other very long, and marriage for us was simply making things formal.

I’m all for shacking up - I’m doing it right now. However, shacking up will not get my boyfriend health insurance coverage through my current employer (though it would have through my last employer).

Believe me, I’m not someone to take commitment lightly - I’ve certainly had prior serious, multi-year relationships, but have never shacked up until now. By the time my parents were my age, they had each been married and divorced twice. But let’s not pretend that contracts can fix everything.

The why get married question has been rattling around my thoughts lately. Since this past week is the first time it’s even been an option, I’ve pretty much started at the beginning of the process.

At least partially for us it would be a political statement. I find myself wondering why we’ve fought for equality all these years if we’re not going to take part in it when it comes.

Partially it would be to guarantee our rights and responsibilities in CA, particularly in the event of illness or death. Most of that can be done other ways, as Shagnasty notes above.

I haven’t figured out the answer to the why question yet, but those are some of my thoughts so far.

To be perfectly honest, I got married because it change my social status, both within the family and to outsiders. And it did.

To me, it seemed an easy decision. We were in a permanent relationship anyway - why not reap the social benefits and advantages of marriage? It makes others in the family happy, and people take your relationship more seriously. All for the cost of a ceremony, which was in effect a big party. What’s not to like?

Why do kids make the difference? Anything needed to raise kids can also be accomplished via contracts or is required by existing laws, right? Plenty of people manage to raise kids without being married. In some places, it’s even the norm for parents who live together and raise kids together not to be married. My boss jokes that he’s been the cause of more Dutch marriages than the Dutch government (he’s an immigration lawyer, and you can’t be a dependent on someone’s U.S. work visa or green card application without a legal marriage or parent-child relationship.)

In general I agree with a lot of this. When you’re young and have nothing, plan on having a family, marriage is the way to go. You can build wealth together, share in child-rearing responsibilities, etc.

I wouldn’t say splitting up on a whim is a good idea. Relationships take communication, compromise and all that. But having to climb a legal mountain to end your life together isn’t a good idea, either. Some people feel that marrying means they’ve “crossed the finish line.” All the niceties and consideration they showed while dating mysteriously evaporates.

As for shacking up, it can be disastrous as well. I’ve seen threads in here and references to roommates who won’t pay, won’t leave, they’re still on the contract, etc. In some places you may be “common law” married after awhile. Nah, marriage isn’t something you should “fall into.”

Dating keeps people on their tiptoes. If a relationship is genuine and rewarding it will last. If you must marry, date for a couple years and listen to the little voice inside.

I got married for three reasons:

First, and most important, because we wanted to prove to the whole world in a public way that we were a couple joined together for life. I know that may not be important for some of you, but it was important for me.

Second, we wanted the legal benefits that go along with being married. I don’t need to list them here, I’m sure they’ve been described in other threads.

Third, we want children, and we don’t believe in having children outside of marriage.


We’d been together nearly seven years when we got married in March.

We got together when I was 22 and he was 24 and neither of us was ready to make any sort of permanent, long-term commitment for quite some time. I moved to Denver to be closer, then we started shacking up. After a few years I think we both started to think about making the situation permanent, but neither of us was truly ready to get married until maybe two years ago. We talked a lot about it and decided it was something we wanted to do.

Honestly, a huge part of it for us was the community aspect - wanting to make that commitment in front of our friends and loved ones. We’d already committed long before to one another, but the wedding was an opportunity to share that commitment with our community at large. While we haven’t done it yet (it takes quite some time here) we both plan to change our names to a new last name, one that combines letters from each of our names. We do plan to have children and knew being married would make things easier on that front.

I guess the short answer is simply that we wanted to get married, so we did. Neither of us felt pressure to do so from our families, though I do think our relationship is more legitimized now, particularly with the more religious and socially conservative relatives. The funny thing is that the Superhero’s brother and his wife had been together something like eight years and were long-term committed partners, neither of whom ever wanted to get married, when he joined the foreign service. So they had a shotgun wedding at city hall in order to enable his wife to go with him and enjoy all the protections and rights the spouse of a diplomat gets (because the long-term SO gets nothing without that piece of paper). His family was thrilled when they got married after all those years of shacking up, and recently the superhero’s mom made a comment about how much easier it was now to call us her son’s wives rather than try to get across “long term committed siginificant other” when neither of the couples were married.

To me, the only people who should have any input into the status of a relationship should be the people involved in that relationship. If it’s important to you as a couple to get married, you should. If not, don’t.

Well, this question has certainly made me put on my thinking cap!

Hubby and I dated for two years before our oldest child was (OK, I’ll admit it, accidentally) conceived. Even then, though, he wasn’t ready for marriage. He’d been married once, it ended disastrously, and at that point, he was still insisting he’d never do it again.

But I wanted to get married. Why? I’m not sure. Partly is was ease of legality. Yes, a lot of what we got by getting married could have been done by contract, etc. But there were certain benefits to be conveyed by our getting married that I wanted. But, as Malthus said, I also wanted the social. . .status, for want of a better word, of being married.

It took me a while to convince him. But finally, he said, OK, let’s get married. And we did. That was more than 19 years ago (we had two more kids, too), and we both like it. Partly, I think at our age (both approaching 50), it’s a case of being “settled”. We’re married. That presents fewer questions in our lives. Should we get married or just live together? Already answered. Should I maybe date someone else? Already answered. Can I get on his health insurance? Already answered.

It’s not that I think he’d love me any less if we weren’t married. And I’d love him just as much. But we just like being. . .settled. And yeah, it does make some of the legalities easier, too.

Antinor01, I think if I were in your position, I’d feel the same way.

At one point while in school in Hawaii, it was decided that we’d get married, but neither one of us can remember the subject being broached or when the decision was made. We just sort of morphed into a mutual understanding.

But a long-term relationship outside of marriage would not have been possible for us back here in Thailand. Her family would have wanted me to make an honest woman of her or bugger off, so since we knew we wanted to stay with each other forever, there really was not much to discuss.

I’m not exactly a fresh-faced recent college grad, but I still can reasonably expect to be alive for another 40 years or so at least. I don’t have huge financial assets, but I do have an IRA (and some grad school loans). My BF is more or less in the same boat (fewer assets, but no debt) Does this change your equation?

I’d certainly hope marriage, or even just being together for a long time, wouldn’t change the level of respect and consideration we have for each other. But hell, if I were married and realize my husband was no longer showing respect or consideration for me, that sure would change my opinion about staying married.

been married twice before, swore I’d never do it again. However, my current relationship of several years is the happiest, most fulfilling of my life. It’s drama-free, sexually charged, and we’re best of friends. I don’t feel the need to get married, but she would like it (and health care is an issue) so we’re going to do it. I resisted for awhile (didn’t want to do it “for her” if I wasn’t interested). Now, I’m actually looking forward to it.

“In the same boat…” Those are the magic words. The older you get, the more disparity. E.g. at age 50 some people have made their first million while others are drowning in credit card debt.

But a lot of people stay anyway, for a variety of reasons (and most of them bad). They feel like if they just try harder they can make it work. Or they do it for the kids. Or they don’t want to feel they’ve failed. Or their parents told them not to marry and they’re going to prove the parents wrong. Or they’re so deep in debt they can’t afford to divorce.

My girlfriend and I aren’t planning to get married any time soon, for a variety of reasons.

We’re not planning to have children in the near future. We’re both not completely decided, but leaning away from it. She’s been married before, and it was not a good marriage. I grew up with two bitterly divorced parents. My mom never remarried. My dad did, and I’ve had a tense relationship with my stepmom. So I don’t have a positive example of marriage to inspire me.

I also think that I’m very cautious (read “terrified”) when it comes to making a commitment. After over a year, I’m willing to commit to three years together. At five, I think I’ll be ready to commit to ten, but I don’t know what it will take for me to honestly make a lifetime commitment. Maybe if we had term marriages…

I’ve been hitched for 10 years. I didn’t believe the priest when he told us that the only reason to get married was to have kids, though I think I’ve changed my mind about that. Marriage for the sake if itself is meaningless and outmoded. Kids make the difference because like it or not, kids in a happy home with a mother and father (or whatever variation thereof) do better. That’s not to say that kids in a single parent home do poorly, especially if one of the parents make the living situation untenable, but generally, and with nothing empirical to back it up but my own experience, kids from happy two parent homes do better.

Without kids, marriage, as previously pointed out, is an outmoded series of pitfalls and contracts that put unecessary burdens on folks who, through nature or through their own choice, spring no fruit from their respective loins. I wouldn’t get married again, and neither, I suspect, would my bride. While it was something that we felt we needed to do, I think the idea of marriage, minus kids, is meaningless.

My SO and I have been living together for 15 years now. No kids. We’ve got shared bank accounts, we’ve bought and sold several houses. I’m sure that lots of people we know have no idea that we’re not married.

Why aren’t we married? At first, living together wasn’t going to be a permanent thing. Over time, it became obvious that this relationship could (and has) worked. At any point, we could have gotten married, but so far, it’s been a case of “Why should we, it’s working well just as it is”.

Why would we get married? At this point, it would pretty much be all about the legal benefits. If one of us were to lose a job, we would probably go get married, to be able to supply health insurance. Survivor benefits is another reason. I have a pension plan at work, and if I were to die, my SO wouldn’t be able to collect anything, while if we were married, my widower could. Third issue, anything we haven’t thought of to cover otherwise. I’m sure there are legal rights given to a spouse, that we haven’t thought about and taken care of. If we were married, those right would be automatic. Not married, those will revert to our seperate families.

So the short answer? At 25, it didn’t make much difference if we were married or not. We didn’t have any money/estate to worry about, and anyway, we were going to live forever.
In our 40s, it becomes much more complicated to have a combined household without the simplicity of having a marriage to go with it.

Why couldn’t you have a happy two-parent home for kids without marriage?

That’s simply not true for everyone. It’s not for us. We never wanted children and are too old for them anyway now. I dare say the ingredients of a happy marriage are no children and separate bathrooms (although we made do with a single bathroom for almost a full decade at first).

And then there are the older folks who get married, in their 50s , 60s on up. No children for them.